Of all the treasures Germany gained from reunification, none excels Dresden for the sheer quality and scope of its attractions. Nearly bombed out of existence on the night of February 13, 1945, when it suffered casualties estimated to be between 50,000 and 100,000 civilians (or more, no one is sure), as well as the total destruction of some 75 percent of its Old City, Dresden has only now recovered after many decades of neglect under communist rule. Many of its treasures have been restored to the condition they were in when the city was famed as the "Florence of the North." There's more than enough to see and do here in a single day, so perhaps you might consider staying overnight, or coming back for another visit. In any case, the walking tour described here will serve as an introduction to the splendors — and the fun — that awaits visitors to this great city.
Trains, mostly of the EC class, depart Berlin's Hauptbahnhof Station for the two-hour run to Dresden. Check the schedules carefully, as some of other classes require one or two changes and can take three hours. Reservations might be a good idea. Return service operates until mid-evening.
By Car, Dresden lies about 195 km (120 miles) south of Berlin via the A-13 (E-55) Autobahn.
Some of the major museums are closed on Mondays, others on Tuesdays or Thursdays, and one of the smaller ones on Fridays — so check the individual listings to match your interests. Boat excursions on the Elbe operate from about late April until early October.
The local Tourist Information Office (Dresden Werbung & Tourismus), T: (0351) 4919-2100, W: Dresden-tourist.de, is at Prager Strasse 2a, between the train station and the Altmarkt. There is also a branch in front of the Semper Opera House. Ask about the Dresden-City-Card, which covers free public transportation, admission to 12 major museums, and many discounts on other attractions. Dresden has a population of about 485,000.
FOOD AND DRINK:
Alte Meister (Theaterplatz 1a, by the Zwinger, facing the Opera) Modern light German cuisine in an historic building, with an outdoor terrace facing the Opera. T: (0351) 481-0426. €€ and €€€
Italienisches Dörfchen (Theaterplatz 3, just east of the Opera) Gourmet-level Saxon and International cuisine in three restaurants. T: (0351) 498-160. €€ and €€€
Café Aha (Kreuzstr. 7, a block east of Altmarkt. Light vegetarian and other healthy fare, both environmentally and sociologically sound, served in an attractive setting. T: (0351) 496-0673. €
Rauschenbach (Weisse Gasse 2, a block east of the Altmarkt) A favorite with the young crowd for light meals and sandwiches. T: (0351) 821-2760. €
X-Fresh (in the Altmarkt Galerie, by the Altmarkt) Salads and other healthy light dishes in a modern shopping mall. T: (0351) 484-2791. €
Numbers in parentheses correspond to numbers on the map.
On stepping out of the main train station (Hauptbahnhof) (1), your first impression will be of anything but charm. Ahead of you stretches Prager Strasse, a prime example of the "brave new world" of socialist planning — row after row of sterile modernist cubes arranged as a pedestrian mall. Since reunification it has at least become a lively place, with booming retail businesses, hotels, and fast-food outlets, but nothing can save the souless architecture. Stop by the Tourist Information Office for some brochures, then hurry on down the block to the Altmarkt (2). Although today it's often a parking lot, this is Dresden's oldest square, a scene of bustling trade since the 14th century. Germany's oldest Christmas market — the Striezelmarkt — is still held here, as are other outdoor markets.
Turn left on Wilsdruffer Strasse, a broad avenue once used for communist parades, then right at Postplatz to Dresden's number-one attraction. The *Zwinger (3) is certainly one of the most impressive royal complexes on Earth. This triumph of Baroque architecture was created in the early 18th century purely as a setting for the pleasures of Frederick Augustus I (Augustus the Strong) (1690-1733) a bon vivant, art lover, and swinger who allegedly sired some 300 illegitimate children when he wasn't busy as King of Poland. It consists of seven interconnected buildings arranged around an inside courtyard, best approached through the Glockenspiel Pavilion on Sophienstrasse. On the other side of the street stands the Royal Palace (Schloss) itself, which you will come to later. The Zwinger complex (photo, below) was largely destroyed in the World War II firebombing, but has since been skillfully restored and today houses an intriguing collection of museums.
The most noted of the museums is the:
*OLD MASTERS GALLERY (Gemäldesgalerie Alter Meister), T: (0351) 491-42000, W: skd.-dresden.de. Open Tues.-Sun. 10-6. €€.
The Old Masters occupy three floors of the side facing Theaterplatz. Upon entering, you will pass a series of tapestries created from cartoons by Raphael, then some remarkable 18th-century townscapes of Dresden by Canaletto Belotto — nephew of the Canaletto — so accurately drawn that they were used as a guide to reconstructing the city after World War II. Upstairs are major works by such Dutch Masters as Jan van Eyck, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Vermeer; German masterpieces by the elder Cranach, Holbein, and Dürer; 17th-century French paintings; and works of the Italian Renaissance by Tintoretto, Veronese, Titian, Correggio and others. The *Sistine Madonna by Raphael can be immediately recognized by those two little cherubs at its base — you've seen that image again, and again, and again. Rounding out the collection on the next floor are paintings by Watteau, Tiepolo, El Greco, Velázquez, and many others.
Along the same side of the courtyard is the:
ARMORY (Rüstkammer). T: (0351) 491-42000, W: skd-dresden.de. Open Tues.-Sun. 10-6. €.
Dresden's Armory features a vast collection of suits of armor, weapons, firearms, and the like. Some of these, created for ceremonial use by royalty (and their horses) are real works of art. You'll also see tiny armor made for play jousting by the littlest princes, an early introduction to the arts of war.
Saxony is famous for its porcelain, so it's entirely fitting that a section of the Zwinger should be devoted to the:
PORCELAIN COLLECTION (Porzellansammlung), T: (0351) 491-42000, W: skd-dresden.de. Open Tues.-Sun. 10-6. €.
Until the 18th century the making of fine porcelain was still a mystery to Europeans, who imported these luxury goods from the Far East. Then an alchemist named Johann Böttger (1682-1719) arrived on the local scene. Having failed at making gold, he was put to work by the royals at duplicating the quality of the Chinese and, in a vault under Dresden's nearby Brühl Terrace he finally succeeded in his assigned task. A factory was set up in nearby Meissen, and the rest is history. The finest examples of German, Chinese, and Japanese porcelains, some of incredible delicacy, are on display here.
Finally, there's the:
MATHEMATICAL AND PHYSICS COLLECTION (Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon), T: (0351) 9401-42000, W: skd-dresden.de. Open Tues.-Sun. 10-6. €.
A visit here sounds rather daunting, but is actually quite interesting. Historic instruments of all sorts are displayed here, including clocks, thermometers, globes, and the like. Among the treasures is an Arabic globe from 1279 and a wonderful *planetary clock created in the 16th century for Augustus the Strong that tracks the movements of all the planets known at that time.
Just north of the Zwinger complex stands another architectural triumph of world renown, the Semper Opera House (Semperoper) (4) (photo, above). The only theater in Germany to bear the name of its architect, it was built in the 1870s to plans by Gottfried Semper, totally destroyed in 1945, and rebuilt by the East German regime in the early 1980s. Hour-long tours of its splendid interior are offered when the theater is not in use, T: (0351) 491-1496, W: semperoper.de, for information. Better still, plan on attending a performance — the season last from October until early July.
Cross Sophienstrasse to the Catholic Cathedral (Katholische Hofkirche) (5), built in the mid-18th century as a private basilica for the royals, who had converted to Roman Catholicism in order to claim the throne of Poland. It did not attain cathedral status until 1980, when it became the seat of the Diocese of Dresden and Meissen. This is the largest church in all of Saxony, and arguably the most magnificently decorated — both inside and out. At one time it was connected to the adjacent Royal Palace by a covered bridge, which led to an arcaded gallery in the church, where the rulers sat. Forty-nine Saxon kings are buried here, as is the heart of Augustus the Strong, whose other remains are in Kraków, Poland. Guided tours are offered at various times during the day, or you can just wander through on your own. Just across from this is the:
*ROYAL PALACE (Residenzschloss) (6), T: (0351) 491-42000, W: skd-dresden.de. Open Wed.-Mon. 10-6. €€.
The Historic Green Vault (Historisches Grünes Gewölbe) requires advance timed tickets, available at tourist offices, online or by phone at the number and website above, at an extra charge of €€€. For the Historic Green Vault you must arrive no later than the time indicated. All bags and outerwear must be checked, and cameras or cell phones are verboten.
Recently restored and now open to the public, Dresden's Royal Palace was mostly built between 1709 and 1722. Besides the fabulous interiors and exquisite room settings, the palace is most noted for its two green vaults, both stuffed with incredible objets d'art. One of these, the New Green Vault (Neues Grünes Gewölbe) is included in the palace admission. The other, the *Historic Green Vault (Historisches Grünes Gewölbe) requires an advance timed ticket and extra fee (see above). If you love crown jewels and such, it's well worth the extra trouble.
For a great *view of the city, you can climb the palace's Hausmannsturm to its 300-foot height. Along the way you'll pass historic photos of Dresden right after the devastation of February 13, 1945. Open April-Oct., Wed.-Mon., 10-6. €.
View of Dresden's Baroque skyline
Another part of the palace complex is reached by following Augustusstrasse past the Procession of the Princes (Fürstenzug), an enormous mosaic wall stretching for some 335 feet and depicting — in 24,000 Meissen tiles — all of the Saxon rulers from 1123 to 1904. This leads to the Johanneum (7), once the royal stables and now the:
TRANSPORT MUSEUM (Verkehrsmuseum), T: (0351) 864-40, W: verkehrsmuseum.sachsen.de. Open Tues.-Sun. 10-5. €.
For anyone fascinated by trains, buses, trams, cars, bicycles, and the like, this is surely a must-see. Among the items on display is a railroad car used by the royal family, early automobiles, historic vehicles by Mercedes-Benz, and a 1930's streetcar.
Now follow the map to the Augustusbrücke (8), a reconstructed bridge spanning the Elbe River and linking the Old City (Altstadt) with the New (Neustadt). There are some excellent views from halfway across. If you feel up to a little walk, a side trip through the "New" (well, not quite as old as the Alt) City will prove interesting. Once across the water, turn immediately left and follow along the river bank to the Japanese Palace (Japanisches Palais) (9), begun in 1715 to house Augustus the Strong's vast collection of Oriental porcelain. Its design, although mostly Baroque, has a distinctly Asiatic roof resembling that of a Japanese castle, as well as Chinese decorations in the courtyard. The porcelains, of course, today reside in the Zwinger, and this palace now houses two rather uninspired museums, one of prehistory and the other of ethnology. From behind the building you can get the *classical view of Dresden as painted by Canaletto in the 18th century.
Cross the busy Grosser Meissner Strasse and continue up Königstrasse to the Albert Platz (10), a spacious garden circle enlivened with interesting statuary. Turning down Hauptstrasse, an unusually pleasant tree-shaded pedestrian way, you will soon come to the Kügelgenhaus (11) at number 13. The Romantic artist Wilhelm von Kügelgen (1802-67) lived here and received such guests as Caspar David Friedrich and Goethe; today it houses the small Museum of Early Romanticism (Museum zur Dresdner Frühromantik), an off-the-beaten-path gem of immense charm. T: (0351) 804-4760, W: stmd.de. Open Wed.-Sun. 10-6. €.
Off to the left, in the 17th-century Jägerhaus, is the Museum of Saxon Folk Art (Museum für Sächsische Volkskunst) (12). A rewarding detour for those interested in the subject, the museum is filled with all manner of Saxon arts and crafts, such as Christmas decorations, toys, painted furniture, and the like. A new attraction is the collection of theatrical puppets on the upper floor. T: (0351) 491-42000, W: stmd.de. Open Tues.-Sun. 10-6. €.
You've been hearing all about him, now meet his gilded likeness. The larger-than-life equestrian statue of Augustus the Strong (13), ruler of Saxony, King of Poland, alleged father of countless illegitimate offspring, builder of the Zwinger, and creator of this "New" City, shines like the overpowering person he undoubtedly was.
A pedestrian tunnel leads under the busy Grosse Meissner Strasse and back onto the Augustus Bridge. At its far end, back in the Old City, climb some steps to the left and stroll down the delightful Brühl Terrace (14). The views along here (photo, above) are just gorgeous, both toward town and across the river. Boat trips are offered from several piers along the quay, some as short as 90 minutes and others making connections all the way to the Czech Republic. A few of these are aboard historic steam-powered sidewheelers. Ask at the tourist office or T: (0351) 866-090, W: saechsische-dampfschifffahrt.de for details.
Follow the map around to the:
*ALBERTINUM (15), T: (0351) 491-4660, W: skd-dresden.de. Open Wed.-Mon. 10-6. €€. NOTE: The Albertinum is presently under renovation. Until completion, some of the art can be seen in the Old Masters Gallery in the Zwinger (3), above.
This is Dresden's other great art museum. Its *Collection of 19th- and 20th-Century Paintings (Gemäldegalerie Neue Meister) has world-class examples of such schools as the Biedermeier, Romanticism, Realism, Jugenstil, Expressionism, and Impressionism, along with works by little-known artists of the former East Germany. Among its treasures are *Two Men Contemplating the Moon by Caspar David Friedrich, and works by Böcklin, Feuerbach, Manet, Monet, Degas, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Schmidt-Rottluff, Nolde, Feininger, Dix, and Max Liebermann. Another section displays the Sculpture Collection (Skulpturensammlung), featuring classical sculpture from Roman and Egyptian times along with some carved wall sections from ancient Assyria.
Stroll over to Neumarkt to visit the magnificent *Frauenkirche (16), completed in 1743 as the first really large Protestant church in Germany. It was reduced to rubble during that terrible night in 1945, and its pile of ruins remained until recently as a monument to the folly of war. Now that reconstruction is finally finished, visitors can once again marvel at its Baroque beauty. T: (0351) 498-1131, W: frauenkirche-dresden.org. Open to visitors on weekdays 10-noon and 1-6. Free. Tower and cupola open daily 10-6, €.
Nearby, the City History Museum (Stadt Museum) (17) in the former Landhaus of 1770 documents the savage firebombing of World War II, widely regarded as a pointless exercise in revenge (Dresden was of little strategic value), along with a thorough history of the city from the 12th century until the overthrow of the communist regime. T: (0351) 656-480, W: stadtmuseum.dresden.de. Open Tues.-Sun. 10-6. €.
On the way back to the station, you might want to stop at the Kreuzkirche (18), founded around 1200 and rebuilt several times since. Its choirmaster during the 17th century was the noted composer Heinrich Schütz, regarded as the "Father of German Music" and the forerunner of Bach. His choir, the world-famous Kreuzchor, is still going strong. Although the interior is spatan, you can climb — on foot — the tower for a bird's-eye view of the Old City.
Dresden has one last attraction, and it's not far out of the way. The Deutsches Hygiene Museum (19) may have a name that only a communist bureaucrat could love, but its displays of the workings of the human body are first rate. Devoted to good health and an ecological awareness, the museum has such exhibits as the "glass lady," an anatomically correct transparent model of a human being, and opportunities to test your oen senses. T: (0531) 4846-670. W: dhmd.de. Open Tues.-Sun. 10-6. €€.
Copyright © 2008 Earl Steinbicker
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